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Mobile device trends: Security, consolidation and more

In a recent report, J.Gold Associates outlined the direction in which mobile devices will be heading in 2007 and 2008. Security is high on the list, while other trends such as consolidation and multi-modal user interfaces start generating some real steam.

It's become impossible to ignore the grasp mobile devices have on today's enterprise. They've become mission-critical for all types of organizations that rely on untethered access to keep in touch.

But devices have evolved far beyond just pocket-sized telephones. They carry the same functionality as laptops and desktops, and more and more applications are coming mobile-ready. In many cases, devices such as PDAs and smartphones have become mobile offices and extensions of the corporate network.

With that in mind, Jack Gold, principal and founder of J.Gold Associates, a Northborough, Mass.-based research and advisory firm, has identified a few key trends that will shape mobile devices, how enterprises use them, and how mobile managers will keep tabs on them over the next two years.

First and foremost, security will remain top of mind. Now that 200 mobile viruses have been identified and enterprises are starting to understand that devices such as PDAs and smartphones can act as vectors to enter the network, mobile managers are beginning to take notice.

But according to Gold's report, most users and companies maintain a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude when it comes to securing devices. And until now, they've been relatively lucky. But that luck may very well run out by 2008, Gold said.

"We expect some major security breaches, and especially compliance breaches, to occur in the next 12 months, as devices get relatively large amounts of memory and processing capability, and users deploy unsafe practices in keeping data on their mobile devices -- and even on SD and other flash devices which are almost always totally unprotected," he wrote.

Another advance, according to Gold, will finally be a break in the long "in process" transition to multi-modal user interfaces, which over the last five years has been discussed as a necessary way to eliminate the need for extensive data input on tiny keypads. Gold said the transition is a turning point, where embedded voice recognition can actually work, especially now that many devices have better processing power and more memory.

"Look for voice recognition to go from just a dialing interface -- 'call the office' -- to a query engine that can retrieve information for users from back office systems – 'where is Jack's order?' " Gold wrote.

Along with multi-modal interfaces, location-based services (LBS) will become increasingly prevalent over the next year or two, Gold suggests, mostly because of a price drop and easier deployment. He said more services will be built around mapping services such as Mapquest and Navteq, and they won't just give directions but will also offer services such as nearby movie listings and directions to the theater. On an enterprise level, LBS will offer "more efficient dispatch, better routing of field people [and] better asset management," Gold wrote. Integrate LBS with other technologies such as RFID and automated meter reading, and the efficiency of field workers will improve.

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Most services and applications continue on an upswing, but one of today's most popular mobile applications will start to dwindle in the near future, according to Gold. Wireless e-mail in the enterprise will decline, he said, and be replaced by more complex applications such as SFA, CRM and Dispatch, Time, and Expense Management.

"That's not to say that wireless e-mail won't still be a major enterprise requirement," he wrote. "But many companies [that] have already deployed e-mail are now searching for the next thing, and that next thing will be connections back to office systems."

Lastly, Gold foresees increased consolidation and device proliferation coming down the pike very soon. He said consolidation in the wireless and mobile space will increase, with many smaller companies fading or falling to acquisition as the major players make stronger pushes with middleware and other solutions. Because of consolidation, Gold warns companies to be cautious in their selection process.

As for device proliferation, that's not expected to slow anytime soon. J. Gold Associates expects a wider variety of form factors, from low-end to high-end smartphones and even devices similar to Microsoft's Origami.

"There will be increasing variety and segmentation in devices, with specific vendor product lines targeting enterprise users, much as happened in the notebook space," Gold wrote. "And we expect the smartphone to take most of the enterprise market share currently held by PDAs, except for industrial or special-purpose uses."

So, what do these trends mean for the mobile enterprise?

"Companies will need to deal with an array of devices and technologies deployed by users, especially in executive ranks," Gold wrote in his conclusion. "Standardizing on a platform will help, but will not totally isolate the company from device diversity. Companies will need to continually update their mobile strategy over the next few years to utilize the latest productivity-improving technologies."

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